Shaq Puts the Fun in Carnival Cruise Line

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After weathering a horrific hurricane season that failed to put a dent in bookings, Carnival Cruise Line is plowing full-steam ahead into 2018 with a new campaign and brand ambassador. The Miami, Florida-based company has appointed Shaquille O'Neal as its first "chief fun officer," part of the "Choose Fun" branding campaign that began Monday. The effort is the first from Carnival's agency-of-record Anomaly, which won the business in August after a competitive review.

"We wanted to find somebody who really embodies our brand values—who is authentic and comfortable in their own skin and embodies fun," says Kathy Mayor, who joined Carnival as senior VP and chief marketing officer two years ago. "It's a great match with [O'Neal] because he lives this way."

In a 30-second spot, the basketball great takes viewers on a whirlwind tour of Carnival, which includes the fastest wedding ever, but no time for basketball. The commercial will air nationally during the Winter Olympic Games. O'Neal will also star in a series of other content posted digitally. Carnival President Christine Duffy announced the new brand ambassador in a national TV spot on TNT Thursday evening. The new Shaq spot will be the first national TV commercial for Carnival in four years, when it advertised during the last winter Olympics.

Carnival is currently in "Wave Season," the time of year when it sees the most bookings.

Despite hurricanes Irma and Maria, both of which affected Florida, Carnival reported better-than-expected earnings last month. The fourth-quarter revenue of Carnival Corp., which includes other brands such as Aida Cruises and Princess Cruises, was $4.2 billion, up 7.7 percent over the year-earlier period. Net income was $546 million, compared with $609 million last year. Carnival, the largest-brand in its parent's portfolio, plans to add a 26th ship to its fleet this year.

In the past, the brand has worked with celebrities including Guy Fieri and Ellen Degeneres, but this is the first brand ambassador that spans across the hospitality company's experiences of food, comedy and entertainment, Mayor says.

She declined to provide specifics around the campaign budget, but noted that it's bigger than last year. In 2016, Carnival spent more than $15.4 million on measured media in the U.S., according to Kantar Media.

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